best ecommerce platform open source or hosted

Open Source or Full Service Ecommerce Platform: Which Is Right For Your Business?

by Jenna Compton
May 18, 2015

Ready to launch your online retail store? Choosing the right ecommerce platform for your business can be a challenge, especially with all of the different open source and full-service options available.

Larger businesses need to be equipped with more features and professional support, while smaller businesses may be looking for a lower-cost option that will allow them to manage their customers and products in an easier way.

Here are the pros and cons of some of the most popular open source and full-service ecommerce platforms used today to help you decide which platform fits your company at this stage of your business development.

Open Source Ecommerce Platform Solutions

Spree Commerce

Spree Commerce is an open source option for those who are interested in a self-hosted solution that is built on Ruby on Rails. Known for its speed, Ruby on Rails was used to build over 200,000 websites, including big names like Basecamp and Groupon. Shopify’s developer, Sean Schofield, developed Spree as the shopping cart open source alternative.

Although you’ll need to download extra apps in order to get more out of Spree, it still offers many free options. As soon as you have access to the platform you can download discount code apps, make use of special offer and gift card capabilities, try selling on Facebook, and take advantage of more immediate features.

It will take you time to learn how to use Spree as it’s not as simple to set up as Shopify (more on that below). You will either need to hire an internal developer our source an ecommerce development agency to use a solution like Spree.

Related: 5 Platform Customizations That Grow Revenue


Another open source choice is WooCommerce, an intuitive platform with easy product categorization. WooCommerce allows for users to build an all-in-one fully-functioning store, website, and integrated blog. The WordPress-based platform makes it easy for WordPress users to understand, and has plenty of flexibility to let you personalize your online store.

Products can be categorized, given sale prices, and independent attributes. You can read more about its functionality here. Additionally, WooCommerce stores are capable of selling physical, virtual, downloadable and even affiliate/external products.

Related: How to Launch an Ecommerce Business in 30 Days (WP Curve)

Though it’s user-friendly, WooCommerce isn’t perfect. Just when you feel like you’ve hit a growth stage and you’re ready to expand beyond the basic ecommerce functions, the WooCommerce will require additional plugins. For example, if you wanted to offer your customers a “Buy 1 Get 1 Free” special, this would require more advanced functionality than basic WooCommerce offers. In order to create a discount special, you would need to purchase an additional $50 plugin.

Open Source Pros / Cons

Pros: free, customizable and manageable for small startup businesses

Cons: costly add-ons, less technical support, and too basic for businesses growing quickly

Enterprise Ecommerce Platform Solutions

Magento Enterprise

Full-service platforms like Magento Enterprise offer more for mid-size to large businesses that need additional support, features, and better performance. That’s probably why Magento is the most used ecommerce platform on’s list of most popular ecommerce sites (with an 11.92% lead).

Its native ability to run multiple stores through one consolidated backend makes it more efficient than many of the available open source platforms. Theoretically, you could have a shoe store and an apparel store on different URLs, yet still track all customers and orders on the same backend. So even if you’re not Amazon-big, Magento provides advanced functionality when it comes to filtering and organizing products through stores. This comes in handy when a more complex business has many products with different variations.

Shopify & Shopify Plus

If you’re not a large business with complex product needs, another popular full-service platform to consider is Shopify. Probably the main reason it’s so popular is that Shopify requires very little programming experience. Proof: there are currently 102,319 live sites using it. It’s a great way to set up a store with minimal experience if you are looking to focus on what’s important: speed to market, selling and optimizing customer satisfaction. Shopify also has great customer support and a very active, informational blog, whereas other solutions like Magento don’t offer as much support unless you spend more to be at the Enterprise level.

Though small businesses tend to gravitate toward Shopify because of low barrier to entry, the company offers Shopify Plus for large enterprise clients looking for a fully-hosted solution. Brands like DODOcase, Strava and Wikipedia have used Shopify Plus as their ecommerce platform. You can read their case studies here. By sourcing a fully-hosted platform, owners are able to focus on their creative processes more, rather than worrying about if an order has been fulfilled or not.

Related: How to Build a $120K per Month Ecommerce Brand in Less Than A Year (Shopify)

Enterprise Pros / Cons

Pros: high level of technical support, and great for small or large businesses

Cons: Can become costly, too many options and can be overwhelming for smaller businesses that don’t have a budget for development

Summing It Up

There are a variety of interactive applications for your ecommerce business available, and depending on the size of your business, you may want an open source or a full-service platform. Small businesses looking to sell products online with no up-front expense would find WooCommerce a great tool to get started with. Once the business grows out of it, the store can move on to a platform more efficient at multi-tasking, such as Spree or Magento.

Choose What’s Best For You

Deciding on your platform is a decision that can make or break your business, but this choice is never black or white. Each business is unique. When you’re ready to select an ecommerce platform, compare your business requirements with your budget. There are many operations that can be automated with your platform, saving you time and money. And, making this move from the beginning could be the best decision you ever make for your company.

If nothing else, talk to other ecommerce business owners. You’d be surprised at how many are willing to share their own experience and advice. Feel free to reach out to our CEO, Allen Burt, if you have questions about choosing the right platform.

Like What You Read?

For more ecommerce business tips, sign up for our newsletter and follow @bluestoutdev on Twitter.

From the biggest pitfalls to the billion dollar success stories, we help ecommerce entrepreneurs grow their businesses.
Subscribe to get it all.
Jenna Compton Jenna is our Director of Marketing and provides regular contributions to the blog. When she's not reading about business, she can be found running, drinking good coffee, and fiddling with projects.